This series of photographs depicts Mr. Souen Tim, and his
father Mr. Tim Sao, both of Lowell, Massachusetts engaged in building the
traditional Cambodian kite, the Klaing Aik. These photographs are a supplement
to the chapter on kite making in George Chigas's paper on traditional
Cambodian culture and religious ceremonies, which you can access here.
PHOTOGRAPH DESCRIPTIONS (Taken from the paper):
Soeun shaves down a bamboo splint with a knife by pulling it across the knife blade while using his finger as a guide; similar to the action of a plane. This splint and another will be used to make the Top Wing. Earlier they were split from the pole with a large kitchen knife pounded with a hammer. The hacksaw to his right was used to cut the splint to the correct length.
Tim, working independently, begins to cut the "M"-shaped Tail Piece that he will attach to the bottom of the spine and will be used to anchor the long cloth tail.
The two splits were attached to the spine with copper wire then tied again at the ends in such a way that the bottom split could be curved up and held in place with a wire tied to the Top Wing.
Tim uses his forearm to measure the length of the spine. He will mark how long the spine should be with a pencil then cut it with the hacksaw to the correct length in proportion with the Top Wing. The design of the Top Wing, by the way, is a different shape from the one that Soeun made previously which had rounded ends; he considers this shape more beautiful. Once the spine is cut to length Tim will shave the end with a file to fit the Tail Piece that he has notched with a chisel, and finally secure the spine to the notched Tail Piece with two small tacks carefully driven in with a hammer.
Soeun and Tim join the slats of the Bottom Wing with copper wire. As with the Top Wing, the bamboo slats for the Bottom Wing were planed down with a knife to make them flexible so they could be bent into shape. (In order to achieve the delicate curves of the design the slats are gradually bent by hand to actually reform the bamboo.)
Soeun makes final modifications to the Bottom Wing.
Tim secures the notched Tail Piece to the bottom of the spine with hammer and small tacks.
Earlier, Tim had bored holes into the Tail Piece with a handmade tool made of a pointed steel shaft fit into a round wooden handle which he spun between his hands to drill the holes into the Tail Piece. In this picture you can see that two thin bamboo dowels have been inserted into these holes and secured at the other end by shaving them so thin that Tim was able to loop them over the Bottom Wing then bind them with wire. Except for the Aik the basic structure of the frame is now complete.
To affix the nylon covering to the frame, the covering is first spread on the floor. The frame is then placed on top of the covering which is marked for reference to keep it in place while it is being cut. The covering is cut and glued section by section not pre-cut then glued in a single place as one might expect. Soeun told us that in Cambodia if glue was not available he would make homemade glue by mixing rice flour with boiling water.
The covering is nearly complete. Excess fabric is used to make streamers to decorate the wing tips. Tim also cut paper flowers to use as eyes on the Top Wing but decided not to include them in the end.
Tim fits the Aik onto the top of the spine. The piece is made of two bamboo slats, the first is longer and will act as the bow that will pull the thin bamboo "singing" ribbon taut; the second piece is used to add support to the longer piece to which it is bound lengthwise with wire, and also provide a means for attaching the Aik to the top of the spine. This is done by separating the two tightly bound pieces and fitting the spine between them and fastening them with wire. The ends of the longer piece are notched like a hunting bow to fasten the string that will pull the vibrating ribbon taut.
Soeun readies the vibrating ribbon for stringing to the bow. Like the other bamboo splits used to make the wings, the vibrating ribbon was shaved down with a knife. However, to make the strip flexible enough to vibrate it had to be honed down much more than the other pieces until it was nearly as thin as a sheet of paper. This can be difficult and painful for the craftsman since the friction generated by repeatedly pulling the bamboo ribbon between the knife and his finger can burn his skin. The thin ribbon is also notched at the ends and looped and hooked with the cord that will be strung to the bow piece which has similar notches. As was previously explained, the string can be restrung on the bow to adjust the tension.
Soeun makes some adjustments to the Bottom Wing.
Soeun holds up the kite for everyone to admire.
Tim cuts the strips of material that will be used to make the long tail that will serve to balance the kite as it ascends into the air.
The strips are glued together end to end then attached to the Tail Piece with wire. Finally the spine is rigged with a guide loop of string where the tether will be fastened, and the Klaing Aik is ready to fly!
To fly the Klaing Aik we went to a nearby park located on the crest of a hill that overlooks the city of Lowell. The infamous day of the flight was August 24, 1987. It was a beautiful, cool, fall-like day with big puffy clouds scudding across the sky; a perfect day to watch and take pictures of the Klaing Aik in action. However, when Soeun and his father tried to launch the kite it climbed only ten feet into the air before veering to one side and crashing to the ground. On their second attempt, despite the strong gusts of wind that bent the tree tops, they were unable to launch the kite again. The wind was not steady enough, it came on strong then quickly died before the kite was aloft.
Tim adjusted the Aik and fastened it further down the spine to better balance the kite. They tried again and were more successful but again the kite veered to one side and crashed on its nose. They then tried tying branches to the tail to give it more weight so it would stand up better during take off and catch more wind. This helped but the wind died just as the Klaing Aik was in mid take off. Finally, the decided to give it one last try and....